Much of the news surrounding the environment and its inhabitants is negative; therefore a bit of good news is more than welcome. One bright spot involves the recovery of the gray wolf in the lower 48 states: a recent report from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife revealed that there are multiple distinct packs in the state. Better yet, they’re interbreeding with successful litters as a result.This means that Oregon wolves are diversifying genetically, which improves their chances of establishing a permanent population here. Wolves were exterminated in the state almost 70 years ago, and their recent return has prompted mixed feelings. Ranchers are already concerned about the safety of their livestock, despite the existence of nonlethal wolf deterrents. On the other hand, advocates of wolves are thrilled by the news; a wolf tagged as OR-7 who cross all the way through Oregon and into California has become a particular celebrity, and even earned the unofficial name “Journey”.
It remains to be seen what impact the wolves will have on Oregon ecosystems as they reintegrate. The species was gone for less than a hundred years, and although in its absence its ecological niche is often filled by coyotes (and human hunters), wolves are capable of reclaiming their historical roles. The ODFW already has a comprehensive plan for managing the growing wolf population, from tracking individuals and collecting data, to outreach to communities and ranchers as wolf-human interactions increase.
For my own part, I’m rather thrilled by this development. It’s not just because I support the return of wolves to their historic range in the lower 48 United States, though that’s certainly important. It’s also because my very first totem was (and still is) Gray Wolf. I’ve never before lived in a state with a wild population of wolves, so this is a new experience for me. Although they’re clear on the other side of the state from my home of Portland, I look forward to the day when I get to see a wolf in the wild, even if it’s at a distance, running down the next ridge over.